Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Archive for March 2008

Showing Up Late, Leaving Early

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I don’t like showing up this late on the blog, but due to factors including

* class;
* getting what must be my fourth cold in two months;
* what can only be described as the Unfortunate Incident of the Apple Juice in the Nighttime, which has rendered my space bar completely inoperable;

I’m only getting around to blogging now.


Here’s some stuff to look at it:

* Lord of the Rings as Property Law.

* Alternate universe baseball.

* Alan Kirby on the death of postmodernism and the birth of pseudomodernism.

Postmodernism conceived of contemporary culture as a spectacle before which the individual sat powerless, and within which questions of the real were problematised. It therefore emphasised the television or the cinema screen. Its successor, which I will call pseudo-modernism, makes the individual’s action the necessary condition of the cultural product. Pseudo-modernism includes all television or radio programmes or parts of programmes, all ‘texts’, whose content and dynamics are invented or directed by the participating viewer or listener (although these latter terms, with their passivity and emphasis on reception, are obsolete: whatever a telephoning Big Brother voter or a telephoning 6-0-6 football fan are doing, they are not simply viewing or listening).

* The Valve, re: Deadwood, The Wire, and The Sopranos: What interests me is that, whatever their differences, all three of these shows elicit our sympathy and concern for brutal and violent people, mostly male, operating outside the law. What’s that about?

* Infinite Thought announces a new competition: “Down with Existing Society!” These are the terms:

Each and every one should express in a succinct manner his or her rationally hostile feeling about the current state of affairs.

I’m not sure I have the wherewithal to put together an entry right now, but if I did I’m certain it would probably have a lot to do with our sympathy for brutal and violent people, mostly male, operating outside the law.

Or else, you know, this:

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March 31, 2008 at 8:44 pm

The World’s Hardest Game

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Presenting the world’s hardest game. I made it about nine levels before I decided I just couldn’t afford to go on. Via MeFi.

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March 30, 2008 at 4:15 am

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JFK, Nixon, W

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I wasn’t an especially big fan of World Trade Center, but I’m pretty interested to see what Oliver Stone has to say about the life of W.

Stone has said that the film, which will focus on the life and presidency of Bush, won’t be an anti-Bush polemic, but, as he told Daily Variety, “a fair, true portrait of the man. How did Bush go from being an alcoholic bum to the most powerful figure in the world?”

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March 29, 2008 at 5:23 pm

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Experimenting with new fuels for our flying saucers

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The world’s physicists have spent 14 years and $8 billion building the Large Hadron Collider, in which the colliding protons will recreate energies and conditions last seen a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang. Researchers will sift the debris from these primordial recreations for clues to the nature of mass and new forces and symmetries of nature.

But Walter L. Wagner and Luis Sancho contend that scientists at the European Center for Nuclear Research, or CERN, have played down the chances that the collider could produce, among other horrors, a tiny black hole, which, they say, could eat the Earth. Or it could spit out something called a “strangelet” that would convert our planet to a shrunken dense dead lump of something called “strange matter.” Their suit also says CERN has failed to provide an environmental impact statement as required under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Although it sounds bizarre, the case touches on a serious issue that has bothered scholars and scientists in recent years — namely how to estimate the risk of new groundbreaking experiments and who gets to decide whether or not to go ahead.

I’ve pointed before at one of my favorite passages from Slaughterhouse-Five, in a similar discussion. Via MeFi.

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March 29, 2008 at 5:13 pm

On Spoiler Whores

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Jason Mittell has a good post up explaining the differences between watching (Viewer A), watching-when-you-already-know-what-will-happen (Viewer B, the spoiler whore), and rewatching (Viewer C), using Lost and Veronica Mars as models. It’s good stuff:

…if the pleasures of suspense are in the telling more than the story, then viewers B and C use their story knowledge to focus attention on the discourse, absorbing and enjoying how the story is told and the subsequent emotions that the telling stimulates. Again, our survey bears this out – many spoiler fans claimed that by knowing what was going to happen, they could actually appreciate episodes of Lost more fully! Fans wrote that they used their foreknowledge of story events to focus on textual details, subtleties of performance, foreshadowing and clues, and stylistic flourishes. Thus by knowing the story ahead of time, spoiler fans approach a “new” episode more like academic critics, simultaneously experiencing and analyzing a text. I’ve discussed this practice in the context of the broader trend of narratively complex television, arguing that such programs stimulate an “operational aesthetic” that combines the act of reading and rereading simultaneously. As Jonathan and I write in our essay, “If typical fan consumption practices for programs like Lost straddle the experiences of first and subsequent viewings, then spoiler fans are taking this process one step further, increasing their expertise to more fully embrace the logic of rereading, and, as one respondent noted, ‘allow[ing] for a deeper analysis while you are viewing it.’”

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March 29, 2008 at 5:07 pm

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Intelligent Discussion Is Occasionally Still Possible

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You don’t see it often, but intelligent discussion is occasionally still possible in this country. There’s even people managing to discuss the Rev. Wright kerfluffe intelligently, believe it or not—check out this clip from last night’s Bill Maher.

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March 29, 2008 at 4:31 pm

Superman Law

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Another big turnaround in the rights to Superman: on the heels of a 2004 decision that assigned Jermone Siegel’s heirs the rights to the Superboy character (upheld in 2006), a judge has now ruled that the Siegel heirs have also owned a share of the copyright on Superman himself since 1999. In terms of things it’s nice to discover you still own, the multi-multi-multimillion-dollar rights to Superman has got to be pretty high on the list. And even bigger news for the future of the Superman franchise:

If the ruling survives a Time Warner legal challenge, it may also open the door to a similar reversion of rights to the estate of Mr. Shuster in 2013. That would give heirs of the two creators control over use of their lucrative character until at least 2033 — and perhaps longer, if Congress once again extends copyright terms — according to Marc Toberoff, a lawyer who represents the Siegels and the Shuster estate.

“It would be very powerful,” said Mr. Toberoff, speaking by telephone on Friday. “After 2013, Time Warner couldn’t exploit any new Superman-derived works without a license from the Siegels and Shusters.”

Of course, my feeling is that a character created 75 years ago shouldn’t still be under copyright at all—but it’s certainly nice to see copyright law for once protecting creators rather than corporations (albeit belatedly), particularly creators exploited as badly as Siegel and Shuster were.

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March 29, 2008 at 1:30 pm

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SF Top Tens

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March 29, 2008 at 1:26 pm

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Strategy for Total Basketball Dominance

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For years my strategy for total basketball dominance has been:

a) Find someone who can hit a three-point shot from anywhere on the court;
b) Always give the ball to that person.

At last someone has taken my advice, and #10 seed Davidson is on a pretty unbelievable tear.

Click the image below for my bracket thus far. It’s actually in fairly good shape, as all my final four picks are still alive. I even managed to shoot up to #3 in the coveted “people I know on Facebook” category yesterday, and judging from the picks people around me have made I should stay fairly close to the top, especially if Texas is able to upset Memphis today tomorrow…

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March 29, 2008 at 1:13 pm

Politics Links

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A few politics links:

* Bill Clinton’s got a crazy new argument.

“Right now, among all the primary states, believe it or not, Hillary’s only 16 votes behind in pledged delegates,” said Bill, “and she’s gonna wind up with the lead in the popular vote in the primary states. She’s gonna wind up with the lead in the delegates.”

And if only you count states with four letters that voted in March she’s winning by a ton

* Leahy says the primary’s over.

“There is no way that Senator Clinton is going to win enough delegates to get the nomination. She ought to withdraw and she ought to be backing Senator Obama. Now, obviously that’s a decision that only she can make frankly I feel that she would have a tremendous career in the Senate.”

Reality check, check. Vague moral threat, check. Quiet promise of a bribe, check. Too bad Clinton won’t listen.

* Bob Casey jumps off the fence and endorses Barack. Richardson, Leahy, Casey, Pelosi: are the supers finally moving?

* Ezra has your definition of the day.

“National Greatness” is what results when unacknowledged feelings of sexual inadequacy manifest themselves as a theory of foreign policy.

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March 28, 2008 at 3:07 pm


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As you can see, I’ve been slack blogging the last day or so—I’ve been catching up with other things. Here are a few Friday links to keep us busy:

* I’ve got a short review in the Indy of Harvey Pekar’s new book on the history of Students for a Democratic Society.

* Joseph Romm of Climate Progress has an article at Salon arguing “it won’t be easy but we can fix our oil and climate problems at the same time.”

Thus we come to one of the biggest questions of our time: Is humanity wise enough not to pursue carbon-intensive alternative fuels, even though pretty much all of them are economically profitable at current oil prices?

Wisdom! Curses! Our one weakness!

* A judge has ruled that Wal-Mart doesn’t have a trademark on the smiley face.

* Also at Boing Boing, a bed that will protect you from the terrorists.

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March 28, 2008 at 1:01 pm

Is There Life on Enceladus?

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Is there life on Enceladus?

An international spacecraft that dove through geysers erupting from the surface of a Saturn moon found organic matter, one of many ingredients that make an environment hospitable to extraterrestrial life, scientists said Wednesday.

The discovery excited mission team members, who say it’s a marker for further research into whether the icy satellite Enceladus has such an environment.

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March 27, 2008 at 2:25 pm

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For that is the boundry, and the price, of immortality

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What happens when my ethical vegetarianism runs headlong into my unquenchable thirst to live forever? Looks like we’re about to find out. Via

Three years ago, Lee Spievack sliced off the tip of his finger in the propeller of a hobby shop airplane.

What happened next, Andrews reports, propelled him into the future of medicine. Spievack’s brother, Alan, a medical research scientist, sent him a special powder and told him to sprinkle it on the wound.

“I powdered it on until it was covered,” Spievack recalled.

To his astonishment, every bit of his fingertip grew back.

“Your finger grew back,” Andrews asked Spievack, “flesh, blood, vessels and nail?”

“Four weeks,” he answered.

That powder is a substance made from pig bladders called extracellular matrix. It is a mix of protein and connective tissue surgeons often use to repair tendons and it holds some of the secrets behind the emerging new science of regenerative medicine.

“It tells the body, start that process of tissue regrowth,” said Badylak.

Badlayk is one of the many scientists who now believe every tissue in the body has cells which are capable of regeneration. All scientists have to do is find enough of those cells and “direct” them to grow.

“Somehow the matrix summons the cells and tell them what to do,” Badylak explained. “It helps instruct them in terms of where they need to go, how they need to differentiate – should I become a blood vessel, a nerve, a muscle cell or whatever.”

If this helped Spievack’s finger regrow, Badylak says, at least in theory, you should be able to grow a whole limb.

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March 26, 2008 at 4:02 pm

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‘No one has missed me. The city is a cruel and lonely place. I was right to have disappeared.’

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Ralph Garnello considers the world without him. Via MeFi.

Two days after my disappearance, very little has changed in my apartment. A red dot blinks on the answering machine, announcing a missed call. The refrigerator’s compressor turns on and off at regular intervals. A cockroach emerges from under the stove and skitters beneath the dishwasher. The most noticeable difference is the milk, which has been left out on the counter and gone sour. Perhaps I had it out when I inexplicably vanished. More likely, I just forgot to put it away again, as usual.

Ten days after I’m gone, the roaches move about with impunity. Rats scurry, unseen, through the cabinets. The houseplant near the window is brown and withered, although it could have been like that before my departure. I never paid much attention to it. The milk on the counter is slowly turning into a solid, giving off a foul odor that blends in seamlessly with those emanating from the month-old pizza boxes and piles of dirty laundry.

After three months, animals not usually encountered in urban areas will have ventured into the apartment. Wolves roam freely, scavenging for food and drinking out of the toilet. An antelope buries its snout in a half-empty box of Cheerios. A mountain lion knocks over the milk, rendering the entire kitchen and part of the connecting hall uninhabitable for several months…

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March 26, 2008 at 3:34 pm

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A Lot Like Life

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It’s a bit hard to say whether Apple Shooter is fun because of or despite the fact that it always ends the same way. Via Cynical-C.

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March 26, 2008 at 3:23 pm

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